Drugs and Alcohol Glossary


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  • addict, addiction
    Addiction is a neurobiological disease, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Its development is influenced by environmental, cognitive and genetic factors. Addiction can be characterized by “impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm and/or craving.” Addiction often implies dependence on substances other than alcohol, although alcoholism is essentially alcohol addiction. The American Psychiatric Association recommends avoiding the term addict, suggesting instead the phrase “someone experiencing a drug/alcohol problem.” The association also discourages using the term junkie, which specifically refers to someone who misuses heroin. According to Substance Use Disorders: A Guide to the Use of Language by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the term addiction is acceptable for uncontrollable, compulsive use of substances as well as acts such as gambling, sex, working, etc., in the face of negative health and social consequences. The center states that addiction differs from dependence in that dependence only accounts for health problems, whereas addiction denotes use, despite health and social problems (this same distinction applies to alcohol dependence and alcoholism). The center also recommends using the word misuse in place of abuse when describing harmful drug usage. Avoid the terms clean and dirty concerning drug test results, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. The terms are considered derogatory because they equate symptoms of illness to filth. When referring to a drug test, state that the person tested positive for (drug). It is preferable to refer to someone who harmfully uses drugs as someone with a drug addiction. Use recovering or in recovery from to refer to someone trying to overcome active addiction, i.e. someone recovering from a methamphetamine addiction.  
  • alcoholic, alcoholism
    An alcoholic is someone who has the disease of alcoholism. Alcoholism is characterized by a loss of control in alcohol use, according to the American Psychological Association. The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment recommends using people-first language such as someone with alcoholism or someone with an alcohol problem. Refer to someone who harmfully uses alcohol as someone with an alcohol problem or someone with alcoholism. Use recovering to refer to someone with the disease of addiction, as in someone recovering from alcoholism.  
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. in Akron, Ohio, according to the AA General Service Office. AA is “a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism,” according to the group’s preamble. AA members do not pay dues or fees; rather, it is supported through contributions. AA is unaffiliated with any outside organizations or institutions and does not endorse, finance or oppose any causes. The AA program is focused on 12 steps people take to achieve sobriety. Because anonymity is central to the organization, disclose that someone is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous only if it is essential to the story. When covering AA, consider referring to members by their first name only unless official references or context requires otherwise. These same considerations apply when covering other 12-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous. See alcohol, alcoholic.  
  • dependence (drug)
    A physiological state that can occur with regular drug use and results in withdrawal symptoms when drug use is abruptly discontinued.
  • detoxification, detox
    A process that enables the body to rid itself of a drug. Medically assisted detoxification may be needed to help manage an individual’s withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification alone is not treatment but is often the first step in a drug treatment program.
  • drug abuse, substance abuse
    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, use of drugs becomes abuse "when people use illegal drugs or use legal drugs inappropriately. This includes the repeated use of drugs to produce pleasure, alleviate stress, and/or alter or avoid reality. It also includes using prescription drugs in ways other than prescribed or using someone else’s prescription. Addiction occurs when a person cannot control the impulse to use drugs even when there are negative consequences—the defining characteristic of addiction. These behavioral changes are also accompanied by changes in brain functioning, especially in the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centers."
  • rehab
    See treatment/treatment center/rehab center/detox center.
  • tolerance (drug)
    A condition in which higher doses of a drug are required to produce the same effect achieved during initial use, which often leads to dependence.
  • treatment/treatment center/rehab center/detox center
    Treatment is defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as the use of any planned, intentional intervention in the health, behavior, personal and/or family life of an individual suffering from alcoholism or another drug dependency designed to achieve and maintain sobriety, physical and mental health and maximum functional ability.  A treatment center is an establishment usually run by psychiatric or medical professionals. Treatment is an acceptable term for medical interventions, and treatment center is acceptable for the establishment in which such practices take place. Use treatment center in place of rehab or detox center. A person enrolled in a treatment center should be referred to as a patient.  
  • withdrawal (drug)
    Symptoms that occur after regular use of a drug has been abruptly reduced or stopped. Symptom severity depends on the type of drug, the dosage, and how long and how frequently it has been taken.